The term “Buckskin” refers to the colour and not to a breed. However, buckskin registries do exist to promote the breeding of this colour. A true buckskin horse has a colour like that of a tanned deer hide, with a black mane and tail, black socks on the legs, a black muzzle and black tips around the ears. The shades of the body can range from a light yellow to dark gold and the points (mane, tail, legs, etc) can be black to dark brown. There are other colour variations including dun, grulla, red dun, and brindle dun that is included in most of the buckskin registries.
A horse with dun colouration has much more pigmentation in the body hairs. It tends to be darker in colour and has much more black hair throughout the body which can give it a “sooty” appearance. In general, duns have dark points like the buckskin. What really distinguishes a dun from buckskin though is the presence of “dun-factor” points which are a dorsal and shoulder stripe and striping or “barring” on the legs.
A Grulla coloured horse is generally a mousy grey that ranges from bluish to slate. They can also have a warmer brown pigmentation. Like duns, the Grulla horse generally has the dorsal stripe, the shoulder stripe and the leg barring.
The colouration of a red dun horse ranges from a light peach colour to a darker red. In general, the points of a red dun are a darker shade of red or a chestnut colour which provides a great contrast to the body. To be considered a red dun, the horse must have a dorsal stripe. Shoulder stripes and leg barring are usually present but not required.
The brindle dun is a very rare colour. It has most of the “dun-factors” including the dorsal stripe, shoulder stripes and leg barring, but what sets it apart is the striping found all over its body. The striping can be anything from teardrop in formation to zebra-like.
Part of the appeal of buckskin breeding is the genetic factor resulting in a horse of a different colour. All horses possess two locations in their genetic code where a colour modification can occur. These genes go by the name of “creme” genes. They have the capability to lighten the horse by one or two shades depending on whether one or two of the genes are present. Horses that are bay, sorrel, or black do not have a “crème” gene present and are called base colored.
Horses with palomino, smoky black or buckskin colouration have one “crème” gene, and are called “single dilutes.” If a horse is cremello, pearlino, or smoky cream in colour it is said to be a “double dilute” and has two of the “crème” genes present. A buckskin horse is essentially a bay horse with one “crème” gene. A dun horse has the “dun” gene which dilutes colour the same as the “crème” gene, but it adds the “dun factor” or the dorsal and shoulder stripes and leg barring. The dun gene is thought to be a much more primitive gene, reflecting the colouration of many of the ancient breeds of horses.
The largest buckskin promotional organization in the world is the International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA). It was incorporated in 1971 in the United States (Indiana) and serves to promote and preserve the breeding of buckskin, dun, grulla, and red dun horses. This organization is also an AQHA alliance partner. It maintains the pedigrees and shows records of any horse in its registry.
It promotes the breeding and use of buckskins through a national point standing program, a World Show, a national convention, a queen’s contest, a scholarship program, and many other activities. To be registered with the IBHA, a horse must be buckskin, dun, grulla, red dun or brindle dun.
Another important worldwide registry in the American Buckskin Registry Association. Founded in 1963, this association is also an AQHA alliance partner. It is actively involved in the promotion of the buckskin, dun, red dun and grulla colours as well. It has a World Show, national point standings and scholarship program. This registry is only open to light bodied horses and will not accept any of draft type. It will accept horses with white markings, as long as they are confined to legs and face (such as socks or stockings, and facial markings like a stripe or star). The applicant must provide eight photos to register a horse. It does not allow any horses with pinto or appaloosa colouring.
Since buckskins can be of any breed, you will find them performing in a multitude of disciplines such as western and English pleasure, halter, showmanship, cutting, reining, dressage, driving, roping and rodeo, jumping, endurance and ranch work.